While there are those that have managed to sustain lengthy successful careers, they are others who burned brightly at the start but the flame didn’t last as long as it maybe could, or should, have. Today we will look at werestlers who found success very early but struggled to replicate that, for whatever reason.
For professional wrestlers, it takes a special kind of crazy to do what they do day in and day out. Sometimes for little or no money just to strive to one day hit big. What exactly is hitting it big though? Is it fame, fortune, world titles, traveling the world? When is it the right time to hit it big? Is there a timetable for success?
Today, we will look at some wrestlers who “made it” at an early age but for whatever reasons never reached that peak again in their careers. Does this mean that they were failures? Not in the least, some continued to have very good careers in the industry. They simply never got back to the time when they were at the top of their profession or just were simply derailed for a period of time.
Fame and fortune can damage any individual who gets it. When it happens to somebody when they are young, the damage could be far greater. Here are some wrestlers who perhaps got a push too early and paid for it down the road:
Tommy ‘Wildfire’ Rich
Tommy Rich was a young, blonde heartthrob that became one of the biggest stars in the business in the 70’s and early 1980’s. There was no questioning the popularity of Rich during the territorial days of pro wrestling. In 1981, at just 24 years old, Rich defeated Harley Race to become the NWA world champion. Not only did Rich beat one of the NWA’s top stars, in doing so he also became one of the youngest world champions in history!
Tommy Rich would only hold the title for 4 days but many felt there were plenty more world titles in his young and bright career. Tommy never did reach the top of that mountain again. His last big ticket feud was with the ‘Mad Dog’ Buzz Sawyer in Georgia. His career never could quite recoup and while he had a very good career. it never got to the levels that were predicted of him.
Kenny started out in the business at 15 years young. At age 20, he was one-half of the WWE tag team champions with “Mikey.” That victory made him one of the youngest wrestlers to ever hold a championship within the WWE. After pursuing a singles career, that is when Dykstra’s career seemingly stalled.
He bounced around the WWE never really making a dent in his overall status. He wound up leaving the company and went to the independents. Kenny would never quite have the impact that he initially did with the WWE and eventually left wrestling altogether. Kenny recently made a brief comeback with the WWE, but, again, much to ado about nothing.
Rene Dupree, like Kenny Dykstra, started out his professional career at a very early age – 14 years old. A few years later, while still in his teenage years, Dupree debuted with the WWE. At 19 years old, Dupree won the tag team titles with Sylvan Grenier becoming the youngest wrestler to hold a WWE championship title.
Dupree would win another tag team title with Kenzo Suzuki at the age of 20. He also tried his hand at a singles career with the company but like Dykstra, it never really took off. Dupree, now a seasoned veteran continues to wrestle mainly in Japan. He has sustained a good career but his time on the biggest stage seems to have flickered out.
Yes, I realize that Paige is still technically on WWE’s payroll and things might change, but for the time being she is in a transitional period in her career. Paige started her career at the tender age of 13 years old. She signed a WWE developmental contract at 19 and became the youngest ever WWE Divas champion at 21. By age 22, she was ranked by Pro Wrestling Illustrated as the top female wrestler in the world.
Since achieving all those accolades, Paige has slowly fallen off the WWE map. Failed drug tests, injuries and perhaps at times her attitude have held her back from true greatness. Was she pushed too early in her WWE career? Maybe, the jury is still out on her, but with the leak of nude photos and sex videos, her career just might be derailed for a bit longer.
Chris Von Erich
The youngest child in the famous Von Erich clan had the passion and desire to carry on the Von Erich name for a new generation. A lot was expected out of Chris considering the deaths of a few of his brothers. He broke into the business at age 20 and from the start was saddled by his small frame. This caused Chris to suffer a few injuries that continually setback his wrestling career.
The pressures to succeed and be a star for the family proved to be too much for young Chris. On September 12th, 1991, Chris committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was just 21 years old.
The Giant Paul Wight
In his very first pro match, The Giant, aka The Big Show, defeated Hulk Hogan by disqualification to become WCW World Champion. Wight was only 23 years old at the time. Many would say his career never really recovered from his initial and very early success. Wight would win other world titles, but his attitude in his early days with the WWE held him back from true “superstar” status.
He was ultimately demoted down to the WWE’s developmental territory OVW as punishment. While others will argue that Wight has had a decent career overall, no doubt it may have been a lot better if not for his poor attitude in the early years.
By being on this list, we are not saying they were busts or failures in their careers, just simply that early success might have been a bit detrimental overall. It also isn’t intended to imply that early success always ends up poorly for the respective wrestler. Case in point Lou Thesz who won his first NWA title at the age of 21. He is still considered by many to this day as one of the greatest, if not the greatest NWA champions of all time.
Rey Mysterio is another example of a wrestler starting young and flourishing throughout his career. Rey started wrestling at age 15 and has been able to maintain a stellar career and is now in his 40’s.